Fewer Than Half Of San Diego Police Officers Say They're Vaccinated
Fewer than half of San Diego's sworn police officers have reported being fully vaccinated against COVID-19, giving them the lowest vaccination rate of any group of city employees.
City data released last week show only 49% of officers represented by the San Diego Police Officers Association have told city officials they are fully vaccinated. Twenty-five percent have reported they are not fully vaccinated, while 26% have either refused to disclose their vaccination status or have not responded to the city's request for the information.
Rebecca Fielding-Miller, an epidemiologist and professor at the UCSD School of Public Health, said there is always tension between personal liberties and public health requirements, but that the city's vaccine mandate would make public spaces more accessible — especially for people who cannot get vaccinated such as children under 12 or the immunocompromised.
"In particular for public employees, in order to do their job you have to interact with the public," Fielding-Miller said. "The public also has a right to feel safe in those interactions. And in a pandemic, that means that the person you're interacting with has a lower probability of giving you an airborne infectious disease."
Fielding-Miller said the low vaccination rate among San Diego police officers is particularly concerning because people interacting with officers usually cannot just walk away if they feel unsafe.
"It's actually extra important that police be vaccinated because it's their job to keep people safe and because that interaction is often not voluntary for the other person," she said.
The vaccination rate among the city's blue collar workers, such as street sweepers and sanitation drivers, is roughly 50%. Deputy city attorneys and "unclassified" city employees such as supervisors or City Council staffers had the highest vaccination rates, at 87% and 88%, respectively.
Mayor Todd Gloria announced last week that all city employees must be vaccinated by Nov. 2 as a condition of their employment, meaning those who continue to refuse the vaccine could risk losing their jobs. The overall vaccination rate among the more than 11,000 city workers is 65%.
City officials are still in negotiations with employee unions about the details of the new vaccine mandate, such as how religious and medical exemptions will be vetted. San Diego also suffers from chronic staffing shortages, and it's unclear whether Gloria will follow through on firing unvaccinated employees.
Gloria said in a statement that there are currently five active COVID-19 outbreaks among city staff, 79 infections had been detected in the past month and the disease's spread has forced some police and fire operations to halt.
"Requiring city employees to get vaccinated is a critical step toward making sure we can continue to effectively provide essential city services as well as keep our city employees and members of the public safe," Gloria said.
Several media outlets have reported vaccination rates among law enforcement are lower than the overall population. The Guardian reported recently only 23% of San Diego County Sheriff's Department employees have reported being fully vaccinated. The article acknowledged that could be an undercount because some vaccinated employees may not have reported their status.
A Sheriff's Department spokesperson said the 23% figure was inaccurate, but did not provide corrected numbers. Currently only Sheriff's Department employees who work in county jails are required to either get vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID-19 testing. A press release last week said 49% of jail staff have reported being fully vaccinated.
A San Diego police officer recently posted an anti-vaccine screed on a message board run by the police union. The post ends with the acronym "WWG1WGA," which is used by followers of the disproven far-right conspiracy theory QAnon. SDPD officials say they're investigating the post to determine whether it violates department policy.